Sometimes, I write a column for the paper that is deemed insufficiently food-centric; this is yet another instance.
Here is the original version of today's piece, before I was asked to revise it and then the revision was edited. I think it's worth sharing because it shows far better the depth of my grief, the desperate need for comfort and distraction. If nothing else, it's important to me to publish it.
Is half of it about my pussycats, rather than about food specifically? Yes. To my mind, that doesn't mean it's not about food, and the various ways that food provided solace when I needed some. I also think there's useful information about my cats' health, and I wanted to offer some public thanks for the care I/we received. And beyond all of that, I smile when I remember hearing someone say I'm "hilarious," and I need as many smiles as I can get, right now.
But, enough blathering. On to the story as I want to tell it ....
This column is going to start out with tears (mine, at least), but don’t worry: it will end with some comfort. Comfort food, that is.
In January, my seven-month-old kitten, Graycie, died very suddenly from feline infectious peritonitis. I’d never heard of it before that day, and wish I were still that ignorant; it’s almost always fatal, especially among the young and the old who don't have the resources to fight it. It was devastating to lose someone so little, and with no notice or opportunity to try to prepare. Graycie and our other cat, Hobbesie, had been inseparable. He was never quite as full of cat-itude, which he’d possessed in abundance, after she left us.
Then, on March 18, I had to put three-year-old Hobbesie, whom I’d written about last year – we officially named him Hobbit for his love of multiple meals – to sleep. He had occasional flare-ups of chronic pancreatitis. But a recent recurrence which didn’t improve turned out to be, after more tests, congestive heart failure. Hobbesie had so much fluid in his chest that it was difficult to even see his heart on the x-ray. Truth be told, I think his heart broke on Jan. 11 when we lost Graycie, and little by little his tears seeped out from that wound until they simply consumed him.
Hobbesie was rushed into the back of the hospital when I brought him to the veterinary emergency room that night, because his breathing was so labored; he needed oxygen. Then two very friendly vet assistants came into the exam room to talk with me, to get a history, to reassure me that they’d do their very best for him. One of them had worked previously at our vet's office and knew Hobbesie. She knew that he wasn't himself - he wasn't flirting, he wasn't showing off how handsome he was. My poor baby was so sick.
The other woman smiled at me and told me she enjoys reading my page. It was such a sweet thing to say, completely unexpected, and a kindness that I desperately needed at that moment. After they left the room, I could hear the one saying to her co-worker, ”If you read her, she’s hilarious.” That may be one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received.
But once I went home alone that night, without Hobbesie, how could I find any hilarity or even a smile? We’d lost two beloved pussycats in only two months.
Well, I found comfort with food, of course ... and not just eating it.
Thirteen hours after leaving the veterinary hospital, I was a judge at the Mobile Meals Great Chili Cook-Off, supporting a cause that is so very dear to me: feeding people, especially ones who are vulnerable. Those at the event who knew about Hobbesie’s death, having read his obituary (not just an announcement) on my Facebook page, offered hugs and condolences. Others who didn’t know offered distraction, as I tried not to say anything unless directly asked how I was; I couldn’t lie, after all, and say ”I’m doing great, thanks!”
The next day I baked, doing some recipe testing. I had to pay attention to what I was doing. I had to sample the wares, too – quality control, you know. If I was thinking about the food I wasn’t sobbing, overwhelmed by the losses of Hobbesie and Graycie. It worked, as long as I stayed busy. I baked three kinds of cookies and a lemon meringue pie.
And thus, the term ”comfort food” took on new connotations for me, that very sad weekend.